Champions Day the perfect finale to Melbourne Cup week

By Dennis Ryan

10 Nov 2022

Champions Day the perfect finale to Melbourne Cup weekSam and Catriona Williams celebrate Roch ’N’ Horse’s Champions Sprint win with jockey Jamie Mo

The Victoria Racing Club’s decision to revamp the final programme of its marquee Flemington week proved a winner for everyone who participated at Flemington last Saturday.
One of the greatest challenges for racing administrators in the state of Victoria is keeping pace with New South Wales and a racing schedule awash with cash thanks to the aggressive approach by Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys.
While the V’landys way of doing business is for obvious reasons particularly popular in his home state, it doesn’t meet universal acceptance, but rather than be overwhelmed the VRC to its credit has got on the front foot with its own set of modifications and stakes injection.
That is headed by the Champions Stakes Day concept with three weight-for-age races at 1200, 1600 and 2000m and each carrying a stake of A$3 million. The result was an attendance of more than 50,000 on what dawned as the first fine day in the whole week, and most importantly, quality fields for the three headline events.
At the end of the day, three quality performers held sway – and most importantly for all those on this side of The Ditch, one of them was a true-blue New Zealander. Little Avondale-bred and owned Roch ‘N’ Horse already had the record on the board from her previous exploits on both sides of the Tasman, headed by her 100-to-one win back in March in the Gr. 1 Newmarket Handicap.
Even so, her return to the Flemington straight six on Saturday was overshadowed by rivals that included the world’s highest rated sprinter Nature Strip, unbeaten The Everest winner Giga Kick, last-start Manikato Stakes winner Bella Nipotina, Godolphin’s Paulele an d star Queensland sprinters Rothfire and Baller. And not forgetting New Zealand Sprinter of the Year Levante, who on her first trip to Australia had performed with such credit when fourth to Roch ’N’ Horse in the Newmarket.
Punters let Roch ’N’ Horse get under their guard again – albeit not to the same extent as in March – but there was denying the bonny Per Incanto mare as she and former jumps jockey Jamie Mott found their way through the pack and hit the lead 100m from the finish.
Across the line she had the measure of Nature Strip, with Baller just holding on for third to again deny Levante an Australian Group One placing by just inches.
There to lap up the occasion was a jubilant group of owners headed by one of the most admired members of our industry, Catriona Williams and flanked by her husband Sam in a well-timed respite from spring commitments back at Little Avondale.
“When she won the Newmarket a lot of people said it was a fluke, but they can’t say that any longer,” Sam Williams said with justified conviction. “To beat a field like that at weight-for-age, and have Nature Strip right there at the finish – that’s the ultimate.
“I wasn’t so sure about coming over with Catriona, I thought I might put the mocker on the mare, but I’m so glad I did, to share it with my wife and a whole bunch of others who are in this mare with us.”
Having turned down the $40,000 offered for Roch ’N’ Horse when she went through the Karaka yearling ring, there’s no chance anyone will get the opportunity again, despite her current value being many times more.
“No, there’s no way she will ever leave Little Avondale,” Williams said. “I think it’s great that our major studs like Cambridge and Waikato are able to retain their very best racemares, and now we’re in the fortunate position to keep our best ever.”
Williams paid a special tribute to the key players in Roch ’N’ Horse’s career, beginning under the management of Pam Gerard at Ballymore Matamata and transitioning to stable principal Mike Moroney at his Flemington base.
“Before we headed off to the presentation on Saturday, I made a special call with Mike to Pam back in New Zealand. She and her team did a brilliant job to get her going and Mike and his team over here have taken it to another level.”
Moroney could hardly have wished for a better way to sign off Melbourne Cup week, which had begun with a Melbourne Cup second by his emerging stayer Emissary. He also won the final race on Saturday’s card with Snapper and picked up a valuable placing with Tokorangi in the Gr. 2 Matriarch Stakes, both of those horses having also some through the transtasman system.